Japanese supplier Koito to plead guilty in U.S. to price fixing, pay $57 million fine

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DETROIT -- Japanese supplier Koito Manufacturing Co. has agreed to pay $56.6 million in fines and plead guilty in federal court to price fixing lighting components that were sold to Toyota Motor Corp.

A two-count felony charge filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit says Koito participated in conspiracies to fix prices of automobile lighting fixtures and automotive high-intensity discharge lamp ballasts sold to Toyota’s U.S. manufacturing unit for cars sold in the United States and elsewhere.

In just over two years, prosecutors in the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust arm now have won criminal fines of more than $1.8 billion along with guilty pleas from 24 companies and 26 executives.

Similar investigations into the automotive supply chain have been ongoing in Europe and Asia.

Koito’s role in the lighting fixture conspiracy spanned from at least June 1997 until around July 2011, the government said in a statement. The price fixing of the lamp ballasts took place from as early as July 1998 until at least February 2010.

The lighting fixtures include headlamps and rear combination lamp assemblies using several bulb technologies such as LED. The lamp ballasts regulate the electrical current used to ignite and control the electrical arc that produces the bright light emitting from the headlamp, according to court documents.

Koito has agreed to cooperate in the ongoing federal auto parts probe.

Efforts to reach Koito officials through its U.S. unit, North American Lighting Inc., this afternoon were unsuccessful. A Toyota spokesman at its manufacturing unit in Erlanger, Ky., did not immediately respond to an e-mail and voice message seeking comment.

“The conspirators engaged in long-term conspiracies to fix the prices of essential components used in the production of automobiles,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program, in a statement. “Today’s criminal fine demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s continued commitment to hold companies accountable for collusive behavior that impacts American consumers.”

Koito of Tokyo ranks No. 42 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global parts suppliers, with worldwide sales to automakers of $5.24 billion in the 2012 fiscal year.

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. -- Follow Vince on Twitter


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